Full disclosure – I’ve never seen a single episode of MMPR. I was a teenager at the time it first came on the scene, and had just been introduced the world of Marvel comics, where I immediately fell in love with Wolverine and Rogue and Gambit (et al). Probably I thought I was too mature for MMPR (or at least wanted to appear that way). I’m such a snob.
So when I saw a staged reading last year with my friend (and BWBTC ensemble member) Alison Dornheggen in it, I was non-plussed by the fact that “Jason Narvy” was also in the cast – until fellow Babe Elyse Dawson explained just exactly who he was and how amazing it was to be in the same room as him (at which point I was still non-plussed, but more curious!). Then around November, 2015, I started working on PR for the Babes’ next show, 180 Degree Rule, in which Jason had been cast. We came up with a questionnaire and I sent it off in an email to this unknown man – and what I got back was fantastic. His philosophy on acting, violence on stage, and guiding in the next generation of story-tellers as a professor at Concordia University was truly inspiring. (see Q&A below)
February rolled around and rehearsals for 180 Degree Rule began. This script is very special to a lot of the cast & crew and the Babes’ ensemble. The Babes had been work-shopping this play for years and co-writer and dear friend to many, MEH Lewis, passed away in March of last year. Rehearsals were a good mix of pseudo-familiarity with the story, hearing new voices in the roles, exploring a world of film on stage, and nostalgia for the woman missing from the rehearsal room.
As in many productions, the true cast bonding came during tech week: hours upon hours together with too much caffeine & not enough sleep, figuring out costume quick-changes, working with physical steps that were only a tape mark on the floor before, fog effects being added to fights, video projections that had no sound for a day, Twizzlers, and dressing room war stories. This is when I discovered that no matter how many millions of people think they know who Skull is, the privilege of working with Jason is a personal one. And the same can be said of working with Chris, Tommy and Kate. The amazing BWBTC members in the cast, Kelly, Amy & Lisa, I had already worked with, so I knew they were great – but I continue to be amazed by them all. Every. Single. Time. Known or unknown, ensemble or guest artist, we’re all in this together – and the crew is 100% behind us and has created an amazing atmosphere to tell this story with panache, style, safety, compassion and some big laughs.
And now, going back over that questionnaire, with an actual ‘person’ in mind, I’m even more inspired. Not only is this guy charming as hell, talented & fun to watch on stage, he’s whip-smart, too.
By the way – if you want to meet the man himself, come see 180 Degree Rule at 3PM on Sunday, May 1st, and stick around for a talk-back with Jason. Maybe ask a follow-up question or two. For all promos & events, check out the site.
Now for Jason in his own words:
What drew you to acting?
First of all, my mom and sister were performers. From the time I was a very small kid I remember my mom belting out those folk revivalist songs, the Simon and Garfunkel, the Mamas and Papas, stuff like that. She had this operatic soprano voice and she probably was always torn between being a singer and being, well, our mom. Then there was my big sister, who did a few plays in high school and her plays I think were the first ones I remember.
I was an aspiring derelict but without the malice most of my hoodlum friends had. So after taking a drama class in high school, I had a place to go and have a voice, redirect my youthful angst and energy. I was a smart kid, but too preoccupied with adventure (or petty crime, whatever you want to call it) to be a successful student in anything but the arts. Then there came a time when the only thing I was allowed to do when I was grounded was theater. AND I WAS ALWAYS GROUNDED. But if you give a young person something that forces them to be brave, forces them to work harder than they’ve ever worked, forces them to show an honesty which , when push comes to shove, every teen wants to show, and allow them the ability for escapism amidst all that, I think you’ve given a teenager everything they need.
How do you compare on-camera to on-stage work? Do you prepare differently?
There’s a myth that good stage acting requires you to be bigger so the people in the back row can see you. And that film is about subtlety and using your face more. No. That’s the lazy actor. The truth is that the good actor just kind of telescopes who they are being honest for. If the guy you’re being honest for is 20 rows back then, yes, you adjust so that person hears you but it doesn’t mean you have to fake it. If the person is right up your nose, you can let your nose do the talking.
Now as for prep, I lucked out by having my first steady film gig with another talented stage actor, Paul Schrier. And we were doing slapstick which can only be honestly done in a scope that people might associate with stage. But the real comedy isn’t in the pratfall. It’s in the reaction to the pratfall—the humiliation, the anger, or the bewilderment that gravity somehow found me and is mad at me even though I have a deep profound respect for him.
So we realized that the only way to do bad work was to follow the wisdom that everything must shrink for film. Your performance is the scope it needs to be to be truthful to the needs of the script. Both big and small are right depending in the given circumstances.
What is it about stunt-work/stage combat that interests you?
I could tell you “I enjoy telling a story when the character’s stakes are high.” I’d be lying, I enjoy a fight that doesn’t hurt me.
All kidding aside, a fight is dangerous. Throwing punches, chucking swords can be dangerous even when staged. They say Olivier had more scars and battle wounds when he died than the characters he played would have. So stage combat is interesting because it requires immense self-discipline and focus just at those moments when a character is losing those things.
What’s the most challenging thing about working on a new script?
That’s tough because every script is a new one if you’ve never worked on it, isn’t it? Othello is new if you’ve never done it.
How often do you get recognized on the streets of Chicago (and how many times is it for Skull, rather than from a student?!).
Surprisingly often. My wife always wonders how the hell people recognize me so out of context.
How does living in Chicago compare to college life in PA and the weirdness of LA?
Its an interesting mix of LA and New York: A proper city like NY, spread out like LA. Not as dirty and moody as NY can be. It’s a shockingly friendly city, unpretentious and gorged to the gills with theatre.
What do you like best about working at Concordia?
The students without a doubt. Earnest, hard working, many of whom are from rural Illinois, so there is a considerable growth curve for them and they relish every minute of it.